Tag Archives: rock

Mississippi Jones Sets their Course on “Recourse: Elemental 1”

Mississippi Jones

Mississippi Jones

What if Garbage went to Minneapolis and recorded in that funky R&B / rock hybrid style made famous by Prince, The Time and André Cymone ?

Missisipi Jonescomprised of vocalists / instrumentalists Mississippi and J@$are the answer to that colorful inquiry.

Mississippi Jones represents the kind of artist unafraid to blur the lines between genre, gender, age, race or any other social lines. Yet, they wear their roots on their sleeve proudly. That juxtaposition makes for fascinating listening on their new extended play, Recourse: Elemental 1. The EP is set to precede a series of four EPs with varying sonic themes; the project will stretch throughout the remainder of 2015.

Recourse: Elemental 1 itself snatches up listeners and carries them along a broad journey with only three cuts. Opening with the fizzy “Mr. White,” the duo sets the tone to fussy fun for Recourse: Elemental 1. The remaining tracks “Stone Cold Killer” and “Tre (s)” alternate between fever and restraint. The rocky contrast will sate those looking for a listening experience that is fearless, but frothy.

Recourse: Elemental 1 had its platform dressed with the pair’s first album, Unreleased (2014)another worthy entry for spinningThe act is poised for broader exposure and if they continue to keep their eye on quality, it’s almost promised that you’ll be hearing more of Mississippi Jones in the future.

[Editor’s Note: Recourse: Elemental 1 is currently available for purchase via CDBaby. For current information on Mississippi Jones, visit their official site.-QH]

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Texas: 25 Years of Pop

Texas through 25 years.

Texas through 25 years.

Today,  Texas released their newest singles collection Texas 25 in the United Kingdomthe American release follows tomorrow. The commemorative set will attempt to chart the trajectory of this Scottish band whose name and (initial) sound cues came from the 1984 film ‘Paris, Texas’. The movie was scored by American rocker Ry Cooder.

Texas’ line-ups have shifted through the years, but three mainstays have stood at Texas’ center: guitarists Johnny McElhone and Ally McErlaine; vocalist / guitarist Sharleen Spiteri.

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Texas 25

Over McElhone/McErlaine’s works, Spiteri’s incomparable range called to mind Dusty Springfield or Chrissie Hynde. Spiteri, despite those influences, brought her own unmistakable presence to Texas, helping them to sell over 35 million records globally.

Across 25 years, Texas lived up to the spaciousness likened to their nom de guerre; sadly it seems that Texas 25 falls shorts of encapsulating their musical diversity. Following the same erroneous pattern their first best-of from 2000 began, Texas abbreviates their legacy again. Several key singles are missing throughout the new set and classics accounted for have been retouched. Though the eyebrow raising “deluxe edition” will feature the hits in their original forms.

Longtime fans and newcomers are denied a chance to experience one of the most versatile popular music vehicles as they evolved. An attempt to gauge the creative pulse of Texas’ eight studio albums through this retrospective will remedy the oversight made by the band themselves.

Southside

Southside

Southside (Mercury) / 1989

Singles: “I Don’t Want a Lover,” “Thrill Has Gone,” “Everyday Now,” “Prayer For You”

Synopsis: The debut album that caused a sensation in the United Kingdom upon its release, Southside captured a young Texas, but one far from underdeveloped. It was here that Spiteri’s voice soared over robust guitar and drumming structures that called to mind American rock music. Underneath that ambitious sound arc was a soulful underpinning that bubbled to the surface. Noticeably on “Faith” there was a lush lyrical interpolation of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone”. Texas later gave the R&B chestnut a loving cover on the U.S. pressing of their junior effort, Ricks Road (1993).

Even among the cavernous classic rock of “I Don’t Want a Lover,” Texas’ blue-eyed soul twinkled. However, that flower still had a ways to go before it would take root and bloom.

Watch / Listen: “I Don’t Want a Lover

MothersHeaven

Mothers Heaven

Mothers Heaven (Mercury) / 1991

Singles: “Why Believe in You,” “In My Heart,” “Alone With You,” “Mothers Heaven”

Synopsis:  Texas enjoying their roots rock was mistaken as laziness by some; Mothers Heaven was actually more progressive than Southside. A deeper listen demonstrated Texas’ pop instincts present in the more insistent melodies of “Dream Hotel” and the titular piece. The record buying public that embraced their brand two years preceding abandoned this recording inexplicably. As such, Texas has disavowed this recording. Output from this LP had been ignored for both their 2000 and 2015 retrospectives―an exception issued to their live effort, The BBC Sessions (2007) which contained some Mothers Heaven content. Texas’ sophomore project has kept a mysterious air.

If the listener has a preference for Texas during its earlier incarnation, Mothers Heaven is not to be ignored.

Watch / Listen: “Why Believe in You

RicksRoad

Ricks Road

Ricks Road (Mercury) / 1993

Singles: “So Called Friend,” “You Owe It All to Me,” “So In Love With You”

Synopsis: The final installment of the Texas traditional rock trilogy, Ricks Road dialed back on melody in favor of harder band instrumentation. It was an odd decision as Texas was in fantastic form already on their two previous efforts. Clearly the commercial cold of Mothers Heaven had shaken them―the chill only lifted slightly in Britain (their largest market) with Ricks Road. Texas did continue to gain traction on American college radio. Further U.S. exposure was gained when comedienne Ellen DeGeneres used “So Called Friend” as the theme song to her hit sitcom series ‘Ellen’ from its third season onward.

Texas had perfected their rock-and-roll and Ricks Road played like a closing chapter to an era in Texas’ discography. Coming from a place of affection rather than just imitation, Texas had proven their mettle as one of the better bands to emerge at the end of one decade and were ready to redefine their sound in a new one.

Watch / Listen: “So Called Friend

WhiteonBlonde

White on Blonde

White on Blonde (Mercury) / 1997

Singles: “Say What You Want,” “Halo,” “Black Eyed Boy,” “Put Your Arms Around Me,” “Insane”

Synopsis: Here was the album that turned it all around and made Sharleen Spiteri the glamorous face of Texas overnight. Spinning off four U.K. Top 10 hits and moving 3.6 million units in England alone, White on Blonde’s alternative rock and soul put Texas at the axis of contemporary music in the U.K. and Europe. Spiteri’s voice wore a sensually darker guise than before on entries like “Insane” and “Good Advice”―this was far from a bad thing. Dramatic string arrangements zinged, guitars added aural pepper when needed and strong songwriting made it sing out to listeners.

Texas had finally managed to be a commercial, creative and critical darlings simultaneously. White on Blonde also announced that Texas were pop auteurs and their next album made this posh hypothesis fact.

Watch / Listen: “Black Eyed Boy

The Hush

The Hush (Mercury) / 1999

Singles: “In Our Lifetime,” “Summer Son,” “When We Are Together”

Synopsis: One of the finest blue-eyed soul records ever crafted, The Hush pitched itself between sweet and salty aesthetics. This kept fans and critics wondering how Texas pulled off their second sonic makeover? If there was any doubt with White on Blonde, The Hush’s  material was an irrefutable shift from blues-rock to Motown. There was still a little sting present as heard on the bruising “Summer Son,” but Spiteri alternated from ripened falsetto (“Tell Me the Answer”) to expressive tones that showed her voice to be a bottomless well of hues (“Day After Day”).

Texas closed the 1990’s on a high with the triumph of The Hush. Though the group had begun to orbit the trio of McElhone / McErlaine / Spiteri, they retained only the best musicians.

Watch / Listen: “Summer Son

Careful What You Wish For

Careful What You Wish For

Careful What You Wish For (Mercury) / 2003

Singles: “Carnival Girl,” “I’ll See It Through”

Synopsis: Often cited as “that difficult punk-pop record,” Careful What You Wish For sought to keep the polish from Texas’ two past LPs―but with something a little edgier. Those that yearned for the open fields of Texas’ earlier albums need not press play here; they were in firm command of their pop changeability on this LP. The two-pronged opener “Telephone X” and “Broken” eyed an even sexier Texas than before; yet, as the album spun―despite its energy―Careful lacked compelling songs.

It didn’t help that in the interim between The Hush and Careful, the U.K. and European pop scenes had gone through many changes. Only two singles manifested, “Carnival Girl” became the minor hit. As far as transitional records went, Careful What You Wish For was exceptional.

Watch / Listen: “I’ll See It Through

Red Book

Red Book

Red Book (Mercury) / 2005

Singles: “Getaway,” “Can’t Resist,” “Sleep”

Synopsis: If Careful What You Wish For was “too hard,” Red Book stood as a pretty pastel solvent to that record. The band sound had been considerably reduced, though Texas’ collaborative writing as a unit remained. After an odd preface meant to recall White on Blonde’s introduction “0.34,” “Getaway” acted as a paean to synth-pop as pioneered by Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark―think Junk Culture (1984) versus Dazzle Ships (1983). Elsewhere, Texas clumsily acclimatized to dance-pop (“Can’t Resist,” “Get Down Tonight”) with lackluster results.

The album was far from a disaster. If anything Red Book was another stylishly coiffed transitional offering, but the group had exhausted themselves. An eight year break ensued as the band pursued various paths. Spiteri recorded her inevitable solo debut Melody (Mercury, 2008) and its equally pleasing follow-up, The Movie Songbook (Mercury, 2010) in that interval.

Watch / Listen: “Getaway

The Conversation

The Conversation

The Conversation (PIAS) / 2013

Singles: “The Conversation,” “Detroit City,” “Dry Your Eyes”

Synopsis: After almost a decade away, Texas reformed and released their best record to date. The Conversation managed to tie The Hush by recharging their pop while gingerly peering back to the organic feel of their first three records. The album, a succinct package of tunes, did not overstay its welcome on the denim twist of the title song to the country-pop waltz of “If This Isn’t Real”.  The band was present audibly throughout the course of The Conversation; Spiteri delivered the goods, her voice timeless as ever.

Sadly, The Conversation did not return Texas to the summit of the charts, but it did make a fair impact. More importantly, fans and critics resounded with praise for its rejuvenated spirit.

Watch / Listen: “Dry Your Eyes

[Editor’s Note: All of Texas’ albums are in print digitally and physically; availability spans domestic and import releases. Texas 25 available now. For current information on Texas, visit their official website.-QH]

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The QH Blend’s “Q Sounds” Vol. 2

QSoundFebruary

Q Sounds for February 2015

Music is my lifeblood and as a writer about its culture, I need it―all the time. Whether scanning aisles in new or used music shops or spying on Amazon, I’m always buying and listening to new music. This format will allow me to capture what music I’ve bought each month and detail it for you, the readers. The three records highlighted will hopefully catch your attention and you’ll follow the purchase links included. Enjoy.

Made in America

Made in America

Artist: Carpenters

Album: Made in America (1981, A&M)

Personnel: Karen Carpenter (lead / background vocals / percussion); Richard Carpenter (arranger / background vocals / producer)

Production Duties: Richard Carpenter

Vibe: Three years and a bevy of changes―personal and professional―had transpired since the Carpenters last full-length LP, Passage (1977). Made in America combined familiarity and (soft) acknowledgement of new trends present at the dawn of the 1980’s. Synthesizers were tastefully layered throughout parts of the recording, giving a touch of color to “(Want You) Back in My Life Again” and lead single “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”.

Deeper listening revealed a latent funkiness present on these numbers that could be traced backed to the aforementioned Passage album opener “B’wana She No Home”. Further, Karen’s aborted eponymous solo debut from 1980―thankfully released in 1996―informed the cool rhythmic approach the brother / sister duo weaved into Made in America.

Additional exploration of this urban pastel style might have given Made in America the “edge” to validate the Carpenters in critics eyes. Many detractors then felt that the Carpenters were not progressing far enough in their recorded output―even with the stated diminutive modernity present. Regardless, Made in America captured that classic Carpenters pop at its cinematic best. Richard’s score-like arrangements sprawled majestically on “Somebody’s Been Lyin'” and “Because We Are in Love (The Wedding Song)”. Both songs housed Karen’s impeccable tone wonderfully.

The latter song was a “happy ending” piece that called to mind Karen’s girl-to-woman transformation completed through ultimate romantic fulfillment. The eventual fact outweighed the fiction unfortunately, but did not remove the magic apparent on that cut or the remainder of Made in America’s contents.

A sharp spinner full of promise, potential and a sense of nostalgia, the Carpenters brand of sentimental pop never sounded better than it did on Made in America.

Watch / Listen: “Touch Me When We’re Dancing

Purchase here

Seventh Tree

Seventh Tree

Artist: Goldfrapp

Album: Seventh Tree (2008, Mute / EMI)

Personnel: Alison Goldfrapp (lead vocals / background vocals / producer); Will Gregory (producer)

Production Duties: Mark “Flood” Ellis, Goldfrapp

Vibe: Goldfrapp’s Supernature (2005 / 2006), their junior effort, stood as one of the defining records of its decade. Their second (mostly) full-blown uptempo album after Black Cherry (2003) had distilled their sexy dance-pop to perfection. Where else could this pair―Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory―venture to now? For Goldfrapp, they peered back to the beginning; rather than resurrect their blitzkrieg blend of classical and electronic music that gripped Felt Mountain (2000), they dialed back. The folky air that permeated Seventh Tree may have disappointed at first listen.

The patient were rewarded with an album whose amber and gold hues charmed. Whereas the orchestral works of Felt Mountain were often marred by belching “bleeps” and “bloops,” here the strings were totally unobstructed. However, the stark violin work that characterized Black Cherry and Supernature was exchanged on Seventh Tree by a blend of violins and acoustic guitars. This musical marriage birthed atmospheric backdrops for “Clowns” and “A&E”.

Lyrically, Goldfrapp had always leaned on voyeurism versus crafting songs about themselves. That did not change on Seventh Tree, even if the stories behind songs such as “Eat Yourself” and “Cologne Cerrone Houdini” read as obtuse when introduced.

Forbearance was a virtue for previous fans of Goldfrapp’s preceding trio of recordings, but their music never felt more refreshing. Seventh Tree played as a portent for their lauded Tales of Us (2013) album, though its homogeneity placed it second behind the broader brightness of Seventh Tree.

Watch / Listen: “Happiness

Purchase here

Super Critical

Super Critical

Artist: The Ting Tings

Album: Super Critical (2014 / 2015, Finca)

Personnel: Jules De Martino (background vocals / lead guitar / drums / bass guitar / piano); Katie White (lead vocals / bass drums /bass  guitar / guitar)

Production Duties: Jules De Martino, Andy Taylor

Vibe: Immediate darlings upon their arrival with We Started Nothing (2008), The Ting Tings were the hottest alt-pop pairing on the scene. Their flavorful follow-up, Sounds From Nowheresville (2012), did not receive as much affection upon its unveiling. De Martino and White stepped back and decided to retool their approach for their third project. Assisted by temperamental (and former) Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor, Super Critical benefited from a groove oriented focus without relinquishing good hooks.

When their lead single “Wrong Club” impacted, lazy commentators accused The Ting Tings of jumping on the disco revival “spearheaded” by Daft Punk and Pharrell in the last two years―this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Many previous disco resurrections had occurred before 2012, noticeably at the beginning of the last decade.

The Ting Tings dancefloor retrofit mined that unpretentious epoch’s feel with the flashy frippery of the title song and the mentioned cut “Wrong Club”. “Wrong Club,” in spite of its addictive floor filling pace, possessed that acerbic wit that made the pair’s songwriting angle so much fun on prior outings.

As the listener descended further into the LP, the beats stayed plentiful (“Do It Again,” “Communication”). The Ting Tings even saved space for a juicy 1990’s R&B throwback in “Wabi Sabi”. It’s a testament to De Martino and White’s abilities that they stood toe-to-toe with superstar Taylor throughout the LP. Once the album wrapped, at just nine tracks, Super Critical showed The Ting Tings far from ready to be relegated to the hipster band bargain bin.

Watch / Listen: “Wrong Club

Purchase here

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The QH Blend’s “Q Sounds” Vol. 1

Q Sounds for January 2015

Q Sounds for January 2015

Music is my lifeblood and as a writer about its culture, I need it―all the time. Whether scanning aisles in new or used music shops or spying on Amazon, I’m always buying and listening to new music. This format will allow me to capture what music I’ve bought each month and detail it for you, the readers. The three records highlighted will hopefully catch your attention and you’ll follow the purchase links included. Enjoy.

Make It Better

Make It Better

Artist: Dubstar

Album: Make It Better (2000, EMI)

Personnel: Sarah Blackwood (vocals); Steve Hillier (keyboardist); Chris Wilkie (guitars)

Production Duties: Dubstar, Mike “Spike” Drake

Vibe: Rising out of the fertile grounds of mid-1990’s British pop, Dubstar played like fellow Britons Saint Etienne with a touch of Garbage on Disgraceful (1995). When their third―and thus far final―long player Make It Better (2000) appeared, it was the lost link between the aforementioned Garbage’s Version 2.0 (1998) and beautifulgarbage (2001). It is easy to see why as Make It Better blended their elegant ennui with bottom heavy guitar grooves (“Take It,” “Stay,” “I’m Conscious of Myself”).

The edge worked well for Dubstar, but being the poppy trio they were they shone best in that arena―see lead single “I (Friday Night)”. Its country-lite licks worked well within its mock Tamla-Motown frame. Sarah Blackwood’s voice, in fine, siren form, was efficacious in capturing the listener.

Make It Better repackaged that disenchanted, but engaged Dubstar presence for the millennium. The (slight) up-to-date sheen placed on the overall album gave it a tastefully aware sense of a new decade dawning―thankfully it didn’t play like an eager set trying to be contemporary for the sake. Unfortunately, the record fell on disinterested ears and scored a minor hit with the previously discussed “I (Friday Night)”. Dubstar has since reformed and work is (seemingly) underway to follow-up this gem. If Make It Better is to signal the trio’s curtain call, they couldn’t go out on a more stylish note than they do here.

Watch / Listen: “I (Friday Night)

Purchase here

Islands

Islands

Artist: Kajagoogoo

Album: Islands (1984, EMI)

Personnel: Steve Askew (guitar); Nick Beggs (lead vocals / bass / percussion / chapman stick); Stuart Croxford Neale (synthesizer / background vocals); Jez Strode (drums / percussion)

Production Duties: Kajagoogoo, Colin Thurston

Vibe: “Too Shy” was the immortal hit that defined this British New Romantic outfit, but the story was never as simple as that tune. The mentioned hit and its parent LP White Feathers (1983) were co-helmed by Duran Duran founder Nick Rhodes and their producer Colin Thurston. Many attributed the album’s success to Rhodes and Thurston’s involvement, but  Kajagoogoo were very present as a band on that project. By the time Islands appeared in 1984, lead vocalist Limahl had been ousted and went on to record his own solo entry Don’t Suppose (1984).

Islands evinced that the now four-piece Kajagoogoo were more than up to the task of handling their own affairs. Nick Beggs stepped up to lead singer duties; flitting between flash and restraint, his voice (and playing) matched his bandmates renewed passion.

Moving into a sophisti-pop vein, a movement that gained more traction globally during the mid-to-late 1980’s, Islands balanced rock fervor with jazz chops. Whether acidic and groovy on “Big Apple” or imparting hypnotic melancholia on the titular song, Kajagoogoo had found their voice in their post-Limahl tumult. The album culminated with an ambitious instrumental, “The Loop,” that would have fit perfectly on Sade’s Diamond Life (1984).

Islands began strong with the U.K. Top 10 hit “Big Apple”; later singles failed to make wider impact. Their U.S. traction was lost when Islands received no release there. Eager to shed preconceptions, the group (unwisely?) rechristened themselves as “Kaja” and birthed an amended EP for Islands entitled Extra Play (1984). No dice. Their last record, the funkier Crazy People’s Right to Speak (1985), met a similar fate. Despite being written off as one-hit wonders, Kajagoogoo’s Islands is a fantastic snapshot of British pop at an interesting interval with this band at their peak.

Watch / Listen: “Turn Your Back on Me

Purchase here

Atlas

Atlas

Artist: Kinky

Album: Atlas (2003, Nettwerk America / Sonic 360)

Personnel: Giberto Cerezo (vocals / guitars); Carlos Chairez (guitars); Omar Gongora (drums); Ulises Lozano (keyboards / programmer); Cesar Pliego (bass)

Production Duties: Kinky, Thom Russo

Vibe: Kinky (2002), the debut album, was an indie-hit; its mix of electronic pop, rock and Latin music was instantly addictive. Yet the album felt staid, as if the Mexican band was keeping their best tricks in the bag. The following year, their second album Atlas released the Kinky beast that would define all their later recordings. Atlas opened on a frenetic fusion high with “Presidente” before seguing into “The Headphonist”―that off-kilter jam featured co-lead vocals with Cake singer John McCrea.

The remainder of Atlas surfed between a miscellany of percussion―natural and artificial―electronic twitches and (surprisingly) quieter moments (“Not Afraid,” “Semillas de Menta”).  Atlas often gets admonished as Kinky’s most “alternative” outing, but (again) it set-off the chain reaction for the against the grain curve that personified later recordings: Reina (2006), Barracuda (2008) , Sueño de la Maquina (2011).

Kinky seemed to lean heavily on its electronic crutch, but Atlas tossed out the formula and went balls to the wall with its tunes. One of their most satisfying releases, Atlas shouldn’t be pegged erroneously due to its fearlessness to sonically wander.

Watch / Listen: Presidente”

Purchase here

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The QH Blend’s Class of 2004

20042014

Hello readers! If you missed my 2004-2014 retrospectives from throughout the year, I’ve collected them all for you here. See below for the specific link to the corresponding album that you’re interested in. My selections from 2014 will be appearing soon, so be on the lookout!

Emma Bunton: Free Me (read here)

Vanessa Carlton: Harmonium (read here)

De La Soul: The Grind Date (read here)

En Vogue: Soul Flower (read here)

Janet Jackson: Damita Jo (read here)

Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (read here)

Hikaru Utada: Exodus (read here)

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2004-2014 Retrospectives on De La Soul, Vanessa Carlton & Gwen Stefani

 

Collage

 

 

Artist: De La Soul

De La Soul, circa 2004

De La Soul, circa 2004

 

Album: The Grind Date

Label: AOI / Sanctuary Urban / BMG

Released: 10/5/04

Singles: “Shoomp,” “Much More,” “Rock Co.Kane Flow”

Synopsis: One of the most prolific and expressive outfits in hip-hop started the 2000’s ambitiously. Conceived as a three-part album series the “Art Official Intelligence” movement produced two records: Mosaic Thump (2000) and Bionix (2001). The LPs were fraught with commercial and creative turmoil. De La Soul persevered and decided to debunk their longtime label Tommy Boy Records to finalize the third installment in the AOI arc. The title of their album series also ended up becoming the name of  De La Soul’s own indie label.

The Grind Date began as the third entry to AOI, but ended up becoming its own record apart from that trilogy―AOI remains unfinished. Despite that creative question mark De La Soul left hanging with the AOI project, The Grind Date became their strongest effort since their mid-90’s stretch. The Grind Date featured only the best production from the likes of J Dilla, MadLib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One.

Perfectly pitched between acerbic rhymes (“Verbal Clap”) and their most tuneful music (“Much More”) De La Soul had found the bridge between musicality and contemporary acknowledgement. A decade has passed since The Grind Date’s appearance, but if this is De La Soul’s last album to date it’s a good way to wrap their legacy.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “Shopping Bags (She Got From You)”]

Artist: Vanessa Carlton

Carlton, circa 2004

Carlton, circa 2004

 

Album: Harmonium

Label: A&M

Released: 11/9/04

Singles: “White Houses”

Synopsis: Carlton had ridden the crest of the post-Lilith Fair singer-songwriter boom with her debut Be Not Nobody (2002). It was easy to assume that her follow-up Harmonium would meet a receptive audience. Unfortunately, Carlton did suffer a “sophomore slump” commercially with the album―creatively the record struck gold.

Richer in its musical presentation (think Kate Bush or Tori Amos), Carlton still maintained lyrical intimacy throughout the record. The jaunty opener “White Houses” recalled Carlton’s own teenage youth, but could mirror anyone’s own “coming of age” experience. Carlton also continued to peer into the notion of love’s complexities with the two highlights of the LP being “San Francisco” and “Afterglow”. A nice compromise between the approachable pop of her debut and her newfound cerebral explorations, Harmonium gained a cult following among Carlton fans. The record influenced her next two records, notably the superb Rabbits on the Run (2011).

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “White Houses”]

Artist: Gwen Stefani

Stefani, circa 2004

Stefani, circa 2004

Album: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.

Label: Interscope

Released: 11/23/04

Singles: “What You Waiting For?,” “Rich Girl,” “Hollaback Girl,” “Cool,” “Luxurious,” “Crash”

Synopsis: It had been a long time coming, but No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani unleashed one of the defining pop records of the decade with her solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Drawing from a wealth of influences―musically and visually―that included Harajuku culture, 1980’s pop and hip-hop, Stefani’s album was full of hits and strong non-single material.

The production muscle allowed Stefani’s lyrical ideas to soar: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Tony Kanal (bassist of No Doubt), Dr. Dre, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Andre 3000 (of OutKast). Whether waxing irreverent (“Rich Girl”), wacky (“Bubble Pop Electric”) or just creating something beautiful (“Cool”) Stefani was brilliant throughout the LP. It was the first single pulled from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. that hit hard―“What You Waiting For?” With a clever lyrical nod to the No Doubt b-side “Beauty Contest” (“Born to blossom, bloom to perish!”), Gwen’s awareness of her of solo flight risk was intriguing to hear.

One of the last great American pop records to emerge, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. proved that Stefani could be hip, smart and fashionable and that none of these concepts were mutually exclusive when it came to crafting pop music.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “What You Waiting For?”]

[Editor’s Note: All three albums are readily in print digitally and physically. Please see the respective official websites for current information: De La Soul / Vanessa Carlton / Gwen Stefani-QH]

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Lenny Kravitz’s “Strut” Reviewed on Blogcritics

Kravitz, circa 2014

Kravitz, circa 2014

My essay on Lenny Kravitz’s new album Strut is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Kravitz hits it hard and fast on his 10th album in his third decade of recording. The record is in stores today. Make sure to check it out!

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